Do Golf Courses Paint the Grass?

Do golf courses paint their fairways and greens to make them that perfect shade of green? Some do! Many do, in fact, and it is a groundskeeping tactic that is growing in use.

Golf courses that do paint their turfgrass generally fall into one of two categories:

  1. Those that use "turf colorants" (the industry term for the application) for touch-ups of browned or even dead areas of grass, where any such areas appear in the playing corridors of the golf course.
  2. Those that use turf painting as an alternative to overseeding, allowing the grass to go dormant but painting it so it remains green rather than turning brown.
Practice No. 1 — using colorants to touch up smaller areas — has been a golf course practice for a very long time. In 1992, the New York Times ran an article about the practice. The colorants, the Times reported, are "typically made from vegetable dyes or latex paint," and "because the paint is porous, it does not kill the grass."

Which golf courses apply spot treatments of paint? Probably most. Not all admit to it, however. Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters, doesn't get its wall-to-wall perfect greenery without the use of turf colorants (and also dyes for its water hazards), but they don't like to talk about it.

Pinehurst Resort, on the other had, has no reluctance at all to talk about how its world-famous No. 2 Course has painted fairways during the winter months. Practice No. 2 — replacing overseeding by painting the grass — is something that is becoming more common all the time in areas where overseeding has typically been the winter practice.

Overseeding grows a cool-season grass on top of the dormant warm-season grass that is in play for most of the year at golf courses in warmer climates. Most golfers hate overseeding because, for a couple weeks, twice a year, it produces less-than-ideal — sometimes even very poor — playing conditions. Golf course superintendents hate overseeding because it affects turf quality year-round, takes a lot of time and effort by staff, and is expensive.

That's why more golf courses are simply stopping the practice of overseeding and painting instead. Painting fairways and greens is much cheaper than overseeding them. At those courses, the warm-season grass goes dormant and a turf colorant is applied. The dormant grass plays just fine, and now looks green, too, rather than looking, well, dead.

Some golf courses do the same thing on their putting greens, painting the grass after it has gone dormant rather than overseeding.

The colorant is sprayed on, usually by hand on putting greens or by riding machine on fairways. There are three classes of colorants used, according to one of the manufacturers, Geoponics:

  • Paint, which is exactly what it sounds like. A grass paint is a turf colorant that coats the surface of the grass, adheres and dries. Just like painting a wall in your house. Painting the turf is the longest-lasting of the three types of applications.
  • Pigments are colorants that penetrate into the leaves of grass, and usually color the turf for a few weeks before another application is required.
  • Dyes work the same as pigments. They are cheaper, and in the right conditions last about the same time as pigments, but are also water soluble so can fade quicker in wet conditions.

The effects of climate change are also speeding up the practice of painting golf course grass. As temperatures rise and drought becomes more common in many areas, it is more of a challenge to always keep the turfgrass healthy and green.

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